K2 Mountain: The Savage Peak and Second Highest in the World

K2, the second highest mountain on Earth, is a formidable and deadly challenge for even the most experienced mountaineers. Located on the Pakistan-China border in the Karakoram Range, this 28,251 foot (8,611 meter) peak has earned the nickname “Savage Mountain” due to its extreme difficulty and high fatality rate among climbers. In this article, I will share my fascination with K2 and explain why it captures the imagination of adventurers around the world.

Introduction to K2 Mountain

Rising to a height of 8,611 meters (28,251 feet), K2 is the second highest mountain in the world after Mount Everest. It is located in the Karakoram Range on the Pakistan-China border. The mountain was first surveyed by a European survey team in 1856 and originally designated simply as “K2” for being the second peak in the Karakoram.

I have always been in awe of K2’s sheer size and beauty. It rises abruptly from the surrounding landscape, its jagged ridges and steep faces jutting into the sky. The mountain is technically much harder to climb than Everest, with more challenging terrain, harsher weather conditions, and a more remote location.

As a passionate hiker and outdoor enthusiast, I have read extensively about K2 and the elite mountaineers who have dared to tackle its slopes. While I have not yet had the opportunity to see the mountain in person, it is at the very top of my adventure bucket list. To me, K2 represents the ultimate test of human endurance, skill and determination against the raw power of nature.

The Challenges of Climbing K2

K2 is known as the “Savage Mountain” for good reason – it is one of the most dangerous and difficult mountains to climb in the world. The peak has an extremely high fatality rate, with about one death occurring for every four people who reach the summit. This is due to a combination of factors, including:

  • Steep, exposed, and technically difficult ascent routes
  • Extreme altitude and low oxygen levels
  • Severe, unpredictable weather with steep snow and ice climbing conditions
  • Increased rockfall and avalanche danger
  • Remote location far from help

Climbing K2 requires a very high level of mountaineering skill and experience, especially in winter conditions. Climbers must be adept at navigating steep snow and ice, exposed rock climbing, and handling severe cold and high winds. The technical difficulty, avalanche risk, and objective hazards increase significantly in winter.

Despite the risks, the allure of being one of the very few to stand on K2’s summit keeps drawing the world’s top alpinists to attempt this dangerous mountain. As of 2021, only 377 people have reached the summit of K2, compared to over 6,000 Everest summiters. Sadly, 91 climbers have died on K2. The mountain demands the utmost respect and calculated risk.

The History of K2 Expeditions

The first successful ascent of K2 was made by the Italian Expedition of 1954, led by Ardito Desio. On July 31, 1954, Italian climbers Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni reached the summit, followed by the Pakistani climber Colonel Mehdi Hasan.

Prior to this, several expeditions in the 1930s and 1940s had attempted the summit of K2 via various routes, but none had succeeded. The 1939 American expedition led by Fritz Wiessner came tantalizingly close, with Wiessner and Sherpa Pasang Dawa Lama reaching about 8,200 meters on the Abruzzi Spur route before turning back.

Since 1954, many strong expeditions have challenged K2 and slowly increased the number of successful ascents. In 1977, the Japanese team of Ichiro Yoshizawa made the first ascent not using supplemental oxygen. In 1986, Polish climbers Jerzy Kukuczka and Tadeusz Piotrowski made the first winter ascent. However, K2 was not climbed in winter again until 2021.

“K2 is a savage mountain that tries to kill you,” said American climber George Bell after his successful ascent in 1953. Having studied the history of climbing on K2, I have immense respect for the skill, strength and bravery of those who have challenged themselves on its slopes. The pioneering climbs of the mid-20th century, done without modern equipment and forecasting, are truly incredible feats of human endurance and determination.

Trekking to K2 Base Camp

For those not ready to climb K2 itself, trekking to its Base Camp is still an epic, challenging and remote adventure. The trek follows the Baltoro Glacier and Godwin-Austen Glacier through a rugged, rocky trail surrounded by some of the most dramatic terrain and incredible natural formations on Earth.

Along the way, trekkers are treated to unparalleled views of the Karakoram’s sky-scraping summits and massive glaciers. The Baltoro Glacier is one of the world’s largest valley glaciers, running for 63 km. Trekkers hike along its lateral moraines, gazing up at the sheer granite faces of the surrounding peaks.

K2 Base Camp itself sits at an elevation of 5,150 meters (16,900 feet) on the Godwin-Austen Glacier. From here, climbers begin their ascent of the mountain and weary trekkers enjoy stunning views of K2’s north face. While a difficult multi-week rugged trek, reaching K2 Base Camp is an unforgettable experience and major accomplishment for any hiker.

According to experienced guide Ghulam Rasool, “The K2 Base Camp trek is one of the world’s great treks. It’s extremely remote, the terrain is rugged, and the mountain views are unbeatable. If you want a challenging adventure in a legendary location, this is the trek for you.”

The Abruzzi Spur Route

The most popular and “easiest” route to climb K2 is the Abruzzi Spur or Southeast Ridge. First attempted by Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi in 1909, this ridge route ascends the south side of the mountain. About 75% of all ascents have been made via the Abruzzi Spur.

However, the Abruzzi Spur is still an extremely difficult and dangerous climb, with a number of technical challenges. It includes:

  • The House’s Chimney: a steep, exposed ice chimney at 6,900m
  • The Black Pyramid: a series of rock bands at 7,200m
  • The Shoulder: a sharp rise at 7,800m
  • The Bottleneck: a steep, narrow gully with seracs at 8,200m
  • The Traverse: an exposed, icy traverse under seracs at 8,500m

Climbers must navigate these cruxes and more on the long, challenging ascent, all while dealing with the debilitating effects of extreme altitude. While the “easiest” route up K2, the Abruzzi Spur still requires immense climbing skill, strength and endurance to complete.

Comparing K2 to Mount Everest

As the two highest mountains in the world, K2 is often compared to Mount Everest. Both peaks are part of the exclusive group of 14 “eight-thousanders”, or mountains over 8,000 meters high. However, climbing K2 is considered significantly harder than Everest for a few reasons:

K2Mount Everest
Steep, exposed, technical climbing on rock, snow and iceSustained glacier and snow climbing, some technical sections
Extremely high avalanche and rockfall dangerGenerally more stable snow conditions, less objective hazard
Typical ascent 65-80 daysTypical ascent 40-50 days
Summit success rate ~30%Summit success rate ~50%+
377 total ascents (as of 2021)Over 6,000 total ascents

So while Everest is higher, K2 is generally considered the more difficult and dangerous mountain to climb. It has a much lower summit success rate, with far fewer total ascents. It requires more technical climbing skill, over an extended expedition, in worse weather conditions. This has earned K2 the nickname “the mountaineer’s mountain.”

In the world of high-altitude mountaineering, K2 is the ultimate prize. Having summited Everest, I can say that climbing K2 would be on a whole different level in terms of sustained technical difficulty and commitment. The exposure, the remoteness, the objective hazards – an ascent of K2 requires elite mountaineering skills and a lot of luck with the weather. It is a stunning peak and incredible challenge.

In conclusion, K2 is a mountain that inspires awe, excitement and fear in climbers around the world. As the second highest peak on Earth, with a well-earned reputation as the “Savage Mountain”, it represents mountaineering at its most raw, risky and challenging.

I hope this article has conveyed some of my deep fascination with K2 and explained what makes it such a formidable and legendary peak to climb. Whether making an attempt on the summit or trekking to its base camp, K2 is a breathtaking adventure that will test one’s physical and mental limits in the heart of the mighty Karakoram Range.

Photo of author

Gary Osbi